Walt Whitman, through his voluminous memoirs and presence in Washington at the time, has become the poet laureate of the Civil War. Here, the New York Times investigates one of his notebooks. The interpretation wasn’t terribly compelling, but I did find this fact very intriguing.
Whitman was weathering private storms of his own as he scribbled these lines, which seem to hint at his unfolding midlife crisis. The third edition of “Leaves of Grass” had appeared in the spring of 1860 and received scathing reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. Another book – to be titled “The Banner at Day-Break” – was set to appear early in 1861. But sometime in the second week of December, a letter arrived informing Whitman that his publishers were going bankrupt.
“An alarming number of American publishers went out of business around the start of the Civil War,” Folsom says. “The market disappeared – people stopped reading books and started reading newspapers obsessively.” Whitman would publish no books, and just three short poems, until the end of the war.